Lahore court acquits PM Shehbaz, son Hamza in Rs16bn money laundering case

Published October 12, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and his son, former Punjab chief minister Hamza Shehbaz. — AFP/File
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and his son, former Punjab chief minister Hamza Shehbaz. — AFP/File

A special court in Lahore on Wednesday acquitted Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his son, Hamza Shehbaz, in a Rs16 billion money laundering case.

The brief verdict, which was reserved earlier in the day, was announced by Judge Ijaz Hassan Awan.

During Tuesday's hearing, the FIA had told the court that no direct transaction had been made in the bank accounts of PM Shehbaz and his son from benami (unnamed) accounts.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had booked Shehbaz and his two sons, Hamza and Suleman, in November 2020 under Sections 419, 420, 468, 471, 34 and 109 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, read with Section 3/4 of Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Suleman had been declared a proclaimed offender by the court for his constant absence in the trial proceedings.

Taking to Twitter, the premier thanked God for victory in the "false, baseless, and political revenge-based case of money laundering". "We stand vindicated in front of the court, law and nation today," he added.

Former Punjab chief minister and PM's son Hamza also tweeted that the "truth has emerged victorious" today, recalling that he was detained in the "political case" for 22 years.

PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry, in an interview with DawnNewsTV, called the verdict "PML-N's victory", saying that "such fake cases were bound to be exposed one day".

"Today is a day of victory and reflection," he added.

Meanwhile, the PML-N, in a tweet on its official Twitter account, said: "Another fabricated case created for political victimisation comes to its inevitable end."

PTI reacts

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the verdict passed today was a "slap on the nation's face".

"On one hand, [they] are seeking funds for flood victims. On the other hand, one family has looted billions of rupees," Fawad said, going on that the laundered money belonged to the people of the country.

Former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said that the court's decision was a "shameful reflection on us". "Within 6 months white collar criminals [have been] whitewashed after being brought to power through US regime conspiracy abetted by local conspirators."

She added that the "latest whitewashing" and accountability amendments had proven that "all that is left to whitewash is the mafia head and absconder sitting in London".

PTI leader Asad Umar said that with the fall of the state everyone was getting acquitted, "but not respectfully".

Today's hearing

At the outset of the hearing today, Advocate Amjad Pervez — who represents PM Shehbaz and former Punjab chief minister Hamza — requested the court to grant the premier another exemption from hearing due to his unavoidable official engagements.

The court had on Tuesday approved a similar request.

Pervez told Judge Awan that none of the witnesses recorded a testimony against the PM or his son. He accused the investigation officer of trying to present "twisted statements" of witnesses.

He castigated the FIA, saying the agency made the cases "on the basis of malice".

According to the law, the prosecution has to prove its case, he argued, adding that the prosecution could not present any evidence on the charge of bribery so far.

FIA special prosecutor Farooq Bajwa told the court that co-suspect Masroor Anwar had been operating the bank account of Shehbaz Sharif, adding all benami accounts were operated by employees of the Ramzan Sugar Mills .

He said the account of another suspect Gulzar Ahmed continued to be operated even after this death.

"Do you have any evidence to corroborate to your statement," the judge asked.

Bajwa responded that the available records did not have any proof in this regard.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the judge reserved his verdict into the case.

On Tuesday, the judge initially asked the prosecutor how many bank accounts were operated in the name of co-suspect Malik Maqsood Ahmad, a peon in Ramzan Sugar Mills, who died while absconding in the United Arab Emirates.

The prosecutor said eight bank accounts of Maqsood Ahmad had been mentioned in the challan. However, he maintained that there was no evidence of any direct deposit or withdrawal in the bank accounts of Shehbaz and Hamza.

The prosecutor said Hamza was a shareholder of the sugar mills, but there was no evidence that the transactions made in the bank accounts of the mills’ employees were made on his instructions.

The case

The FIA had in December 2021 submitted the challan against Shehbaz and Hamza to a special court for their alleged involvement in laundering an amount of Rs16bn in the sugar scam case.

“The investigation team has detected 28 benami accounts of the Shehbaz family through which money laundering of Rs16.3bn was committed during 2008-18. The FIA examined the money trail of 17,000 credit transactions,” according to an FIA report submitted to the court.

The amount was kept in “hidden accounts” and given to Shehbaz in a personal capacity, the report added.

This amount (Rs16bn) has nothing to do with the sugar business (of the Shehbaz family), it claimed. The money received from the accounts of low-wage employees by Shehbaz was transferred outside Pakistan via hundi/hawala networks, ultimately destined for the beneficial use of his family members, the FIA had alleged.

“Eleven low-paid employees of the Sharif group who ‘held and possessed’ the laundered proceeds on behalf of the principal accused, are found guilty of facilitating money laundering. The three other co-accused of the Sharif group also actively facilitated the money laundering,” the agency had said.

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